What makes Australian Orchids Different

Most Australian orchids are terrestrial orchids, which means they grow in the ground.  This is different to the epiphytic orchids which grow in trees.  Structurally these two types of orchids are vastly different.

Epiphytice orchids are pseudo-bulbous  with leaves that last all the year around.  The new plant will grow off these pseudo-bulbs, complete with roots which are exposed to the air.

In contrast, terrestrial orchids can be likened to lilies.  They grow in the ground but unlike lilies many rely on fungi to survive.  They have a bulb or tuber under the ground.  Their leaves vary quite a lot.  However most of the leaves begin to appear around autumn or this time of year.  The flowering time is also variable, with orchids flowering in every month.  However, most of the orchids flower from early winter to the end of spring.

Cyrtostylis reniformis

Linguella nana

Terrestrial orchids reproduce in a variety of ways.  Most require a pollinator which can be a Australian bee (Not a European bee, as these actually destroy the flowers), wasps and sometimes ants.  A lot is still needs to be discovered about orchid pollinators.  Some orchids reproduce by producing a new tuber from their old one.  In these cases, they may not flower very often, but their leaves will be present.

Pterostylis nutans
Nodding Green-hood

What makes our Australian terrestrial orchids so special is their variety.  The common names of many or our orchids indicate the variety.  There are Donkey orchids, Flying Duck orchids, Moose orchids, Helmet orchids, Green hoods, Sun orchids, Onion orchids, Mosquito orchids, Cockatoo orchids, Hyacinth orchids, Spider orchids, Bearded orchids and more.

Our orchids are a barometer of the quality of the surrounding bushland (vegetation).  Though some can be cultivated it is difficult to re-establish, and in some cases impossible to replace orchids once lost.  Within in South Australia, most of the land around Adelaide has been cleared for housing, and within the surrounding Adelaide Hills many areas they are left have had weeds take over.  In the Adelaide region only 5% of original vegetation is left.  This figure is larger in the Eastern states as terrain is steeper and therefore harder to clear.

Diuris beiri
Cowslip Donkey Orchid

Orchids in Australia are protected under law.  This means that no part of the flower can be taken.  This includes the flower, seed pod, leaves and tubers.  The key example of an orchid being collected too much is the Cowslip Donkey Orchid.  This orchid used to be very common, and people would collect baskets of them.  Now they are endangered, and I’ve never seen more than a dozen plants at once.

However orchids can be enjoyed by photographing them.  After the flowers have finished, I return to pictures and remember the enjoyment of a day looking for and photographing these unique flowers.

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